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Monday, December 5, 2011

Finding Your Character's Voice

Happy December! Many of you survived November and Nanowrimo. Even if you only started writing (like me) and still need to finish that November novel, you deserve a treat. Sarah Belliston is hosting a 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway and Blog Hop. You should head over there and check it out. There are lots of great prizes to be had, but you can only enter now through December 12th.

Now, on to our topic for the week.

Voice. What is it that gives our characters unique voices? Here are a few things I learned at MuseCon (check it out, its a free online writer's conference) in October.

1. Are they visual, verbal, or kinetic/feeling? Their speech patterns will reflect this.

Examples: If your character wants to agree with someone they might do it this way:
"I see what you mean." (visual)
"I hear that!" (verbal)
"I'm with you." (kinetic/feeling)

2. What do they notice? If four people are standing in a room where something happens, they will give you four different accounts of the action. What does your character notice? This seemingly little thing will reveal a lot about their character.

Example (Internalization from Talia in Sendek):
Jaron's spacecraft. It was nothing like Sendek’s shuttles. Talia’s eyes roamed over its surface. Sleek and low to the ground, it looked more like a steel egg than a spaceship. There were no windows, doors, or detectable rockets or magnetic thrusters to lift it off the ground. How did it fly?
Now, I didn't think much about voice when I wrote that, but see how her mind moved straight to "there are no rockets, how does it fly?" She also builds her own satellites and appreciates efficient designs. That's also present with the sleek and low thought.

I didn't write what Landry saw, but maybe his thoughts would have been something more along these lines:
The ship was sealed tight. Impenetrable. Two thin bands circled the girth. Each band contained two knobby protuberances fore and aft. Burn marks radiated from the edges. Impenetrable, and defensible.
They are both looking at the same object, and yet they see it differently. Personally, I think I can strengthen Talia's voice, but you can see they focus on different aspects of the ships functions. A strictly scientific view, and a military view.

3. What is their career or main hobby? This will affect their word choices. A lot of time people read Sendek and point out a word or two and say, "would she say that?" My answer is always yes because she's a scientist. Just because you don't use a word on a regular basis, doesn't mean your character won't use it.

Examples of careers that would use different terms: Doctors, military, politicians, lawyers, journalists, zoologists, anthropolgists (really any of the -ists), policemen, garbage men, farmers, truck drivers, actors, professional sports players, etc... A lot of this is a difference in education and or perspective.

My above example fits with this idea as well. I could/probably should go back and add more scientific observations from Talia. 

4. Finally, what kind of attitude do they have. Are the generally happy, positive, negative, worried, scared, angry? This inner emotion will flavor the way they react to the world around them.

Sometimes this aspect of your character might change as the story progresses. For instance, in my new WIP, Ryanne starts out very cynical about love.
"Yes. And no, I do not wish to get married. I’m barely out of high school. Graduated today in fact, and I have a lot of living to do before I ruin my life.” Ry turned her nose up at him.--Chapter 1
Here she's starting the shift toward a more hopeful/wishful attitude. (And yes, after chapter 1 I switched POVs. Hey, it's a first draft, give me a break.)
I could hear his voice in my head. Ma Cherie. I ached to hear those words aloud, but what did they mean to him?--Chapter 9
And by the end, Ry has decided getting married is exactly what she wants with Carter.
"You would give up Abhaile for me?" I looked up at him while the Greater Council watched us.
"My Anam Cara, without you there is no Abhaile."
The void left at my parents leaving filled with his warmth. I reached up and touched the new fire tattoo on his forearm. "Do you remember that day in the balloon?"
"I think I've found that hope you were talking about." 
"Castles and true love?"
I smiled up at him and spoke the words of the promise, "I swear by peace and love, to stand heart to heart and hand in hand with you, Carter Frey. My Anam Cara and my Gra mo Chroi." 
I guess the big question is, does it still sound like Ry? Hopefully the progression will be gradual and realistic enough that the reader won't go, "What?"

Now I'm rambling, so let's wrap this up.

You've probably noticed that I didn't talk about accents. Let's save that for tomorrow. Right now I want you to think about one of your characters. How does their conversation(dialogue) or inner thoughts reflect their unique voice?

Start looking through your WIP and get ready to share some of your favorite voice worthy snippets. 

Email them to unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com with Voice in the subject line. It can be as short or long as you wish up to 500 words. Please include title and genre.

The above is a summary of Karina Fabian's workshop at MuseCon, but the examples are mine. With the exception of the first one. Please check out her websites if you want to learn more about her or from her.
Her blogs:
Fabian Space is her general writing blog.
Rocket Science for the Rest of Us is about the space industry.


Huntress said...

Nothing is more important than creating a voice.

Don Fry said, "Voice is the sum of all the strategies used by the authror to create the illusion that the writer is speaking directly to the reader from the page."

When the author creates a voice, the reader 'hears' the words.

Kelley said...

Great post! I'm a new follower, and thanks for letting me know about the contest!

Michael Offutt, Expert Critic said...

I can imagine sitting down and having this interview with the characters in my book. Your questions would produce some amazing answers.